January 6, 2021
Beginning in August, colleges and universities would need to: adopt and publicly share their policies on addressing sexual misconduct, conduct campus climate surveys every four years, establish relationships with local domestic and sexual violence service providers, and have at least one confidential resource provider available to students. Let’s not make students wait any longer for the justice and support they need and deserve.
STATEMENT FROM JANE DOE INC. ON CAMPUS SEXUAL ASSAULT BILL
Six years ago, the widespread reality of sexual assault on college campuses shook Massachusetts and the entire country. Advocates, led by student activists, decided that a two-fold approach was needed: first, to document the frequency and nature of sexual misconduct on campuses, and second, to deal with due process when a problem occurs.
“We know how difficult it can be for survivors of sexual assault to come forward and speak to anyone about what they experienced, and that when they do, they are often met with disbelief and limited resources for support. This new law would address both of these concerns as well as put an emphasis on prevention, ” said Hema Sarang-Sieminski, Policy Director at Jane Doe Inc., the Massachusetts Coalition Against Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence.
Over the past nearly 50 years, adoption of rules and laws such as Title IX, the Clery Act, and the Campus SAVE Act of the Violence Against Women Act have helped address these issues. Building on that legacy, this new law will support Massachusetts institutions of higher education by establishing a clear pathway toward building communities in which sexual violence will not be tolerated, in which sexual violence will be appropriately addressed when reported, and where all victims will have access to safe and confidential services.
Debra J. Robbin, Executive Director at Jane Doe Inc., added, “As a survivor of sexual assault on a college campus before many of these policies and resources were available, I am particularly heartened to see these new measures coming to pass. Too often students’ lives and educational pursuits are disrupted by the sexual assault they experience. We look forward to working with our 59 member organizations across Massachusetts to help support a comprehensive approach to addressing the prevalence of sexual violence and the serious impacts on students and communities.”
BACKGROUND ON CAMPUS SEXUAL ASSAULT BILL
Originally filed by students and advocates almost exactly six years ago in January 2015, this legislation would require that all campuses in MA have a confidential resource advisor (CRA) to help students access resources and support. A CRA will be able to help facilitate services in-person or remotely and would offer a lifeline to survivors suffering alone. This role offers students confidential services and support and places the decision to initiate a Title IX investigation in the hands of the survivor.
This legislation also solidifies relationships between campuses and local sexual and domestic violence service providers.
Local community providers provide training and resources beyond what the campus or CRA alone will be able to provide, including community trainings, 24/7 hotlines, and free counseling. In the COVID-19 crisis, sexual and domestic violence organizations across the Commonwealth have adapted their services to be remotely available, including establishing new text and chat lines to increase accessibility and other innovative means to support survivors. Establishing relationships with local providers is essential to the health and well-being of campus survivors not only now but also into the foreseeable future.
As education providers grapple to understand the impact of the pandemic on the incidence of sexual and domestic violence across the Commonwealth, passage of this bill would also implement an anonymous climate survey, giving campuses a real-time snapshot of student experiences, vulnerable populations, and access to support, all of which better informs what more can be done to address student needs.